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My Experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami by Hanon's Mother

The mother of Hanon who is Invited by the “Bring Tohoku Kids to Swiss Camps!” Project to join the Winter Camp 2014 wrote her experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011.
My Experienced of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

My Experience on the day of Tohoku Earthquake

Who would have even thought that we would have such a huge catastrophe at that time, and on that day? It has been three years and half since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami happened, yet still there are more than 200,000 people living in shelters or temporary housings.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami – it happened on the 11th March 2011.

I was home with my daughter, who just came back home from Kindergarten.


My mobile phone beeped loudly announcing an earthquake warning, and a few seconds later a violent earthquake hit us. I confirmed that my daughter who went quickly under the table, while I held on TV. The shake was not like usual earthquake we were used to – it was much stronger and a lot longer.

“Mummy, quickly!” my daughter screamed. I turned and saw her. What I saw startled me a little. I saw a mirror image of myself who ducked under a table when I experienced the Miyagiken-oki Earthquake as a kindergartener. 

After I joined my daughter under the table, the earthquake slowed down, so we went to the entrance area of the house to go outside. That is when another big shake hit us, and I had to sit down on the spot covering my daughter.

When the shaking settled, we fled to a local park. A friend who lived in the same apartment and I switched on the TV in a car to find incredible scenes one after another shown on the monitor. At the same time, the screen was showing a map of Japan indicating tsunami warning areas. The report showed a bright red warning indicator that covered my little hometown Shichigahama. My mother lived in the town alone, since my father had passed away a few years ago. The only way she could escape was on foot, as she does not drive. I thought of the path to sheltering area on a hill on the town... Would she be able to escape on foot? Isn’t it impossible? How about the relatives living closer to the sea?

“Please. Quickly. Evacuate to a higher place.”
All I can do was to pray.

In the evening, my husband joined us, and we slept in the car.
I craved for any piece of information about the disaster from TV or radio.

I closed my eyes, thinking of the distance between the ocean and my mother’s house as well as my relatives’ over and over. But I had no idea how far the Tsunami had hit the area. Then I recalled the time when I had a walk with my father when he was still alive.

“Dad, would Tsunami hit our house if a big earthquake hit here?”

“Haha! There is no way Tsunami would come this far! No worries!”

My father’s smiley face, with tanned skin, repeatedly appeared and disappeared in my mind.

I was not sure if I slept or not. But it was the next morning already when my younger brother joined us.

I knew that I could only go to look for my mother one or twice at most because of the amount of petrol left in the car. After we passed the center of Sendai city where people were queuing up to get petrol, the scenery drastically changed. The cracks on the roads hollowed the ground, and there were piles of containers and debris soaked up with sea water and mud. Many cars were stuck upright in distorted roads and houses. I knew that we had to be careful not to get flat tires on our car. We drove to the town with full attention through the devastating sites. Far in distance was petrochemical complex burning down fuming black smoke.

I thought I knew what was going on, but I could not accept the scenes that had completely changed.

We headed out to the gymnastic halls of local elementary and junior high schools.

There were many cars that belonged to the people who came to take shelter on the school ground. We decided to visit shelters one of one to find my mother. As we were walking at one of the evacuation site, we saw my mother walking from the martial arts hall. We shouted, ran, and held each other.

My mother told us that a man who lived next door heard the Tsunami warning from his car radio soon after the earthquake, then he quickly came back home, and my mother joined this neighbor to escape.

We went back to my mother’s house to collect valuables before taking shelter in the center of Sendai city, we saw the sign of water flooded the parking and entrance areas. The whole neighborhood was filled with the smell of burned petrochemical complex.

We were afraid of possible strong aftershocks to come as well as the fire in the petrochemical complex that had not been put out yet. When we reached my mother’s house, we all encouraged each other to act quickly. We packed as much as we could in the car.

Back in the Sendai city, my mother and we lived together for the following few months.

I heard from some of our relatives who had managed to escape in another shelter that my uncle and aunt died from the tsunami. Their house was located only a few steps away from the ocean. My cousin speculated that they decided not to escape because even Chilean earthquake did not cause Tsunami. They were both found inside the house.

My husband, who worked in the communication industry, was assigned to take turns to go into the affected areas for a week at a time as a team. His assignment was to provide battery charging systems for mobile phones all day at shelter areas. His company was the only one that stayed on site to support people. They charged other companies’ phones crossing borders between competitors. Now looking back at the time, he says that he had a mission to connect as many people with others as possible by offering battery charging service.

“Everything was washed away. There is nothing out there. I cannot find a word to describe it.” He would say when he came home on the weekend. He would drop his head down, shaking his head.

Water, petrol, gas… there were things missing in life in the center of Sendai city. However, I was only grateful for being still alive and also having a house to live in, while media would report the transformed scenery of the hometown I grew up in as well as the coastal areas.

I was touched by generosity of so many people – some friends were concerned about me and came all the way to check on me, some sent me a box full of food from the Kanto and Kansai areas where they took shelter, some lent me everything in her house as she was taking shelter in Yamagata, and others lent me a portable bath water boiler, as her house had gas access quicker than other areas.

I recently had an opportunity to visit an affected area in Iwate Prefecture.

Belt conveyers to carry large volume of soil were operating in full motion in order to raise the over-all level of the ground. I stopped at a cafe where its owner kindly took time to explain in details how the area was affected back then by the earthquake and what was the plan after the work of raising the ground completed. “I am sorry”, I said acknowledging so many people must be asking the same questions to him. He responded “no problem, because I want everyone to know what happened”, with his smiley eyes looking straight ahead.

Everyone has a different story of that time on that day. We need to remember the day, and tell and pass it on to the next generation. Needless to say, that is a mission assigned to us who survived the disaster.

November 2014
Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Mother of Hanon Watanabe

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My Experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami by Hanon, a Nine-Year-Old Girl

Hanon who is Invited by the “Bring Tohoku Kids to Swiss Camps!” Project to join the Winter Camp 2014 wrote her experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011.
What I experienced from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

It was a clear sky with full of starts on that day. I looked up to see the sky over and over watching many stars twinkling.

On March 11, 2011, I, a kindergartener then, was sitting at Kotatsu, a heated table with duvet cover over it, with my mother after returning from my kindergarten, enjoying decoration on cookies. As I was laying out many colours of lollies and chocolate over the cookies, my mother’s mobile phone beeped very loudly.

“Beep! Beep! Beep!”

“What? Earthquake?” my mother mumbled as she checked her mobile phone. A few seconds later the house started to shake.

“Mummy! It’s earthquake!”

I ducked under the dining table as I shouted. My mother held onto TV. As I looked to the side toward the kitchen, I saw bowls and plates thrown out to the air and corn flakes falling off to the floor like water falls.

My mother managed to join me under the table and cuddled me. We held onto the table legs together. But the house did not stop shaking vigorously. I remember I had to put my hands over ears as I was frightened of big sounds – from broken plates, windows, to books falling and banging on the floor.

When the earthquake slowed down, as we opened the front door, there came another huge shake. My mother and I had to sit down on the spot as we could not keep standing. I closed my eyes tightly because I was so scared, thinking “Please stop shaking!” I did not know what was going to happen and just held on to my mother. 

Eventually the earthquake stopped. It was a very long time. Once we got out of the house, we saw a lot of people at a local park, which made me feel relieved a little.

But there was no time to rest.  The snow started to fall. My mother went back home to pick up my ski clothes. When she came back, she urged me to put them on. That is when I noticed lots of blood on my mother’s finger. Later she told me that she got her finger cut when pushing broken plates to the side on the floor. It looked very painful, and that made me sad.

Later in the afternoon, my father came home from work on foot. We decided that we sleep in the car. Looking at the sky through the car windows while lying in the car, I saw stars shining as if they were about to fall off. It was a very strange feeling. All of a sudden, I remembered and worried about my grandmother who lived alone by the sea. 

She lived in a small town called Shichigahama where we could reach the ocean in 10 minutes by bicycle. I used to go swimming in summer and go for a walk to pick up sea shells in spring and autumn. I heard my parents talking seriously how the town was swallowed up by the Tsunami, they were concerned if my grandmother was taken into the water or if she managed to get away. I realised then, even though I was very little, that something must have happened to her. I fell asleep thinking about her that night.

On the next day Uncle Satoshi, my mother’s younger brother, came to take shelter. My parents and Uncle Satoshi discussed and decided that they go to look for my grandmother. I could not, and still cannot, believe that that peaceful ocean would turn into tsunami and hit the town. I do not recall what the scenery was like between our house and her house, because I kept my eyes shut the whole time. All I can remember is how scary it was to see that the entire area being black, instead of green trees and beautiful blue ocean that I knew of.

When we arrived at the local elementary school, we saw my grandmother walking towards us.


Screamed my parents and Uncle Satoshi.

With surprise and excitement, I could not even talk. But I ran along with them as I was so happy to see “Granma is still alive”.

Four of us hugged together. We hugged one another a lot.

My grandmother told us that she managed to get out to a higher point of town as her next door neighbour gave her a lift in their car.

We did not know whether our relatives living in the same town survived or which shelter they were staying. We took my grandmother home in Sendai and lived with her for a little while. 

We had food, but we had to use flashlight and lamps because there was no electricity. At night I would shut my eyes and try to fall asleep before I started to feel scared. We had some drinking water, but we had to use water in the bath tub or melted snow to flush toilet using a bucket. I remember how delicious cooked rice tasted once the electricity was back for use. Thinking back those days, I now realize how lucky we are to be able to use electricity, gas and water every day.

After a little while, I learned that our relatives’ houses got washed away by tsunami and two of my uncles and aunts lost their lives. They used to really look after me.

Those relatives who survived lived in a temporary houses after their houses were washed away. My mother told me recently that they have built their own new home and that they are OK now.

At school, I practice emergency drills, and we also discuss emergency issues in the class.

Untill recently, I wanted to forget about the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. But now I decided that I should not forget about it. I will never forget what happened to us, for the sake of those who lost their lives as well as those who are newly coming to this world.

October 2014
Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Hanon Watanabe


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Essay from Hanon who is Invited to the Winter Camp 2014 - I Have a Dream!

Hanon who is invited by the “Bring Tohoku Kids to Swiss Camps!” Project to join a Winter Camp in Schönried in December 2014 has a big dream for her future!

Read on!


For the Sake of Achieving My Goal

I have a dream.

It is to be part of a team called The Young Americans and tour around the world.

The Young Americans is a team who creates a show of dance and music with all the participants, helping people build a self-confidence as well as passing the message of love and peace.

Young people from various countries participate in the Young Americans.

The team holds workshops in Japan every year. Since the Tohoku earthquake, they also have started to come to the Tohoku region where the damage of the earthquake was most severe. The purpose of their visit is to lift up the spirit of the local people, both young and old.

Ever since I started to participate in their workshops, I have learned to be self-confident. A few workshops later, now I would like to help lift up the spirits of many children, the people with physical challenges, and those who suffer from such catastrophe as the Tohoku earthquake. When I shared my thoughts with one of the Young Americans members, she said “you have to be!” giving me a strong hug.

My father once told me that Switzerland is a permanently neutral country, where she never takes one country’s side or the other. It takes a lot of courage to announce such a position, and I have been wondering what sort of people the Swiss are, and I imagine that the people are courageous and kind.

If I were given a chance to go to Switzerland, I would like to like to study English so I can speak better English, and also I would be happy if I could make friends by sharing the Japanese cultures and, hopefully I meet some of my best friends. I would also like to keep in touch with them via email and Skype after returning to Japan.

What sort of buildings are there? What kind food do they eat? What kind of places do people live, and what are schools like? I want to see and experience the Swiss cultures firsthand.

And I will share what I saw and felt in Switzerland with my school friends after I come back to Japan.

When I am older and become part of the Young Americans, I would like to go back to Switzerland to meet the people who looked after me and friends I met on this camp, enjoying the chance to sing and dance with them together.

Even just a thought of it makes me very excited!

I am sure that every experience I will have in Switzerland will be my best treasure.

October 2014
Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
Hanon Watanabe



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The Winter Camp will Start in ONE MONTH!

November 22, 2014
The “Bring Tohoku Kids to Swiss Camps!” Project's 2014 Winter Camp will take place in one month from now!

Hanon must be getting so excited : )


The schedule for the Winter Camp 2014:

We are still welcoming sponsors and donations.

For sponsoring, please read this page:

For donations, please read this page:

Thank you very much for your support!


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応募にあたっては、震災時、沿岸地域で甚大な被害を経験された方を思えば私達の体験はあまりに小さく応募自体を迷いましたが、震災から三年半が過ぎて日常を取り戻し忙しく過ぎていく日々の中で、 あらためてあの日の事を振り返るのはいい機会だと考え応募した経緯がありました。











渡辺 羽音の母


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お願い  一刻も早く   高い場所へ

























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「東北の子どもたちをスイスのキャンプへ! 」プロジェクトの2014年冬キャンプは、Lovell Camp校で開催されます。



「東北の子どもたちをスイスのキャンプへ! 」プロジェクトゆるキャラ



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2014 Winter Camp - Camp Application Process

November 15, 2014

The “Bring Tohoku Kids to Swiss Camps!” Project's 2014 Winter Camp will take place at Lovell Camps.

We are now filling out the forms as part of the application process. 

Hanon will soon receive Clothing List in Japanese so that she can get ready for the camp!

「東北の子どもたちをスイスのキャンプへ! 」プロジェクトゆるキャラ
Hanon with Miyagi's Mascotte Charactor Musubimaru (Rice Ball)


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「東北の子どもたちをスイスのキャンプへ! 」プロジェクトで2014年ウインターキャンプに招待されているハノンちゃん、パスポートをゲットしました!


「東北の子どもたちをスイスのキャンプへ! 」プロジェクト招待者


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